COMMENTARY | Since I began publishing pro wrestling articles on the Yahoo! Contributor Network, one theme has often appeared among the comments. Wrestling fans miss the WWE Attitude Era and ECW. As a publicly traded company that markets itself as family entertainment, the WWE is more likely to push Zack Ryder than it is to return to the days of the Attitude Era. But can an extreme wrestling promotion succeed today as ECW once did?
Paul Heyman would be the first to admit that many factors aligned perfectly for ECW to succeed in the mid-1990s. First, the top wrestling promotions, WCW and WWE, were experiencing lulls in 1993, thus creating a vacuum that made it easier for ECW to succeed. Second, video games and other forms of entertainment were more violent and extreme than they were in the 1980s, thus creating a culture of acceptance of ECW in society. Third, although the transition to political correctness had begun, it had yet to grip society completely in the '90s. Finally, ECW's initial lack of a network deal gave Heyman the freedom to push the envelope early on in his extreme, hardcore wrestling promotion.
Extreme wrestling today
As many fans know, extreme wrestling is still taking place all over the country. Dozens of small, independent promotions still utilize the extreme style that made ECW famous. Perhaps most notable among these promotions is ECW alum Tommy Dreamer's House of Hardcore. Many of the stars of the original ECW wrestle in House of Hardcore, as well as other veterans of WWE, WCW, TNA, and ROH. But Dreamer has only run a handful of shows and neither House of Hardcore nor any other extreme promotion has a major network deal.
However, if the comments of wrestling fans are a representative sample of a larger audience, then there is once again a burning desire for extreme wrestling. Heyman proved that one dedicated demographic of wrestling fans can help an extreme promotion succeed. Still, many of the aforementioned factors that helped put ECW over in the 1990s are not present in today's society. But I believe that by tweaking the product, extreme wrestling can succeed today.
One of the myths or misconceptions among casual fans is that all ECW matches had Singapore canes, steel chairs, and barbed wire. The truth is that ECW also had technical wrestlers such as Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Dean Malenko. ECW also had high-flyers such as Rey Mysterio, Juventud Guerrera, and Psicosis. In fact, Paul Heyman defined extreme wrestling as talent that always gives the fans 100 percent.
One look at how WWE fans react to any Daniel Bryan match and how TNA fans react to the Gail Kim vs. Taryn Terrell matches proves that many fans still love great wrestling. If talented wrestlers were given the freedom to work incredible matches, it would resonate on a TV-PG, TV-14, or TV-MA program.
But for teenagers and adults to take an extreme promotion seriously, its programming would have to be TV-14. Although political correctness has won the day, the program could feature promos with light profanity geared towards an adult audience. The promotion should also give its wrestlers more creative control over character development and promo delivery. Because of the dangers of concussions, head shots with foreign objects should be avoided, but there are dozens of other ways to blade or make a match look extreme.
The final two elements necessary for extreme wrestling to succeed today are solid financial backing and an experienced, dedicated creative director. Undoubtedly, the early years of a new promotion would be rough. The owner must be willing to pay talent and take a loss until it catches on. As was the case in ECW, Paul Heyman was just as dedicated to his product as the talent was and that would also have to be true of a new extreme promotion's creative director. Effort, passion, and enthusiasm are infectious. If it starts at the top, it will trickle down to the fans.
Most wrestling programs in my lifetime have been relatively successful in the ratings. This is why I'm surprised there aren't more promotions and more wrestling programs on television. A small, upstart network would almost certainly gain a huge ratings boost by airing extreme wrestling. And even though the show would be TV-14, there are certainly sponsors with demographic-appropriate products that would advertise on such a show.
Although 2013 is a much different world than 1993, I firmly believe a well-financed and well-run extreme wrestling promotion would succeed today as it did 13-20 years ago in ECW.
Patrick Michael lives in New Orleans and has always been a big fan of pro wrestling. Patrick's favorite wrestling promotion was Mid-South Wrestling back in the 1980s. Patrick's favorite wrestling angle of all-time was the NWO and his favorite wrestler is Roddy Piper. Follow Patrick Michael on Twitter at patmichael84.
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